While many have long forgotten about the disaster, the victims continue to deal with enduring difficulties. Even children born decades after the disaster have major handicaps due to lingering contamination. Many children were evacuated to Israel without their families to undergo extensive treatment so that they might one day be able to attempt to enjoy childhood.
What’s the connection to Simchat Torah?
“Simchat Torah is considered to be one of the most joyous dates on the entire Jewish calendar,” said Rabbi Sholom Schmerling, local CTeen adviser. “During this holiday, which celebrates the completion and subsequent renewal of the yearly Torah-reading cycle, Jewish children worldwide dance in circles around the synagogue with their own little Torahs held high.
“As many of the Chernobyl children are very recent immigrants, they do not own many toys, let alone a toy Torah. The teens want these children to feel the ‘simcha’ — the happiness — that Sukkot brings.”
The teens’ toy-Torah activity was part of a larger program focused on unearthing the cause of true joy — engaging in honest discussion about happiness and its darker counterpart — depression.
After heated debates and moving videos with footage of real people going through tough times, the teens agreed that, while focusing on oneself can bring momentary pleasure, lasting joy stems from making others happy. The teens wasted no time putting their beliefs into practice.
“It makes sense,” said CTeen member Mazal Fernandez, a sophomore at North Port High School. “Everyone has problems, and it’s easy to feel down when you’re just busy thinking about yourself. It felt good to do something for someone else for a change.”
CTeen is a club in which Jewish teens learn about themselves and their heritage through giving to others and participating in interactive, hands-on activities. CTeen is open to all local Jewish teens regardless of affiliation.
By CHAYA RIVKA SCHMERLING GUEST WRITER
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHABAD OF VENICE Chaya Rivka Schmerling, right, with teenage students of Chabad of Venice within the Sukkah, or temporary shelter, built for the observance of the festival of Sukkot, a harvest festival.